National Consumers League

Scams, shams, and predators: online dating in a digital age


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Valentine’s Day is just a short week away. Rather than spend what has often been called “the loneliest day of the year” without that special someone, some of the single among us are weighing their options and plotting on how to secure that last-minute date. Over the past few years, an increasing number of singles have been turning to the digital world of online dating, social networking sites, and singles forums to find romantic partners. If popular Internet dating site, Match.com’s, claims are to be believed, 1 in 5 relationships now begin online. Internet dating can be a great, low pressure way to meet new people and expand your social circle. However, online mingling comes with its own unique set of risks that consumers should keep in mind this February 14th. Sweetheart swindles: In this scam, a fraudster begins a drawn-out process by setting up a profile on a dating or singles site and wooing potential victims by showering them with affection, quickly professing love, and even going so far as to send small gifts like flowers and chocolate. The romance period can last for several months. Eventually, the scammer will invent some imagined hardship—car crash, medical bills, travel expenses—and solicit their new love for money. Once the kind-hearted victim sends some cash, their new “sweetheart” will often begin a cycle of continuous requests for additional funds due to recurring “catastrophes.” Due to the very personal nature of the scam, many victims are too embarrassed to report the crime even when they have suffered substantial losses—the average victim loses around $7,000 dollars in a typical swindle. Child predators: According to Online Dating Magazine, a consumer watchdog publication for online daters, sexual predators can use online dating services to target single parents. These criminals woo single parents and gain their trust and affection to secure what they are really after: access to the children. Online Dating Magazine issued a warning about the issue after Parents for Megan’s Law, a child advocacy group, set up a fake profile of a mother with two boys. A registered sex offender named Michael Bradley, who was convicted of abusing a 15-year-old-boy, showed interest in the woman, violating a court order not to seek relationships online. Fake dating sites: While most consumers know to be wary of those they meet online, sometimes it’s the site itself that can put consumers at risk. Scammers can be quite technologically sophisticated when it comes to online fraud. There are cases where fraudsters have been known to set up sham dating sites full of fake profiles in order to charge unsuspecting users monthly membership fees.  Just this month, two men launched Lovely-Faces.com, a sham dating site complete with 250,000 fake member profiles the men created by importing data from public Facebook profiles. The site’s creators maintain that Lovely-Faces is a prank designed to expose the dangers of online fraud and identity theft. “Facebook, an endlessly cool place for so many people, becomes at the same time a goldmine for identity theft and dating — unfortunately, without the user’s control,” the two explained. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Stick to well-known dating sites that have a reputation
  • Do some research online to ensure you are dealing with a legitimate business before becoming a paying member of a site
  • Some red flags that you might be dealing with a sweetheart swindler include proclaiming immediate feelings of love, refusal to speak by phone, consistent misspelling of common words, and requests to wire money or ship merchandise to a third-party
  • If you are at all concerned about introducing your new partner to your children, use a site like http://www.familywatchdog.us that lets you search by name and zip code for registered sex offenders
Online dating is often a great way to find and connect with new, interesting people. Most users of these sites aren’t scammers out to steal your life savings or poach your personal information. However, that doesn’t change the fact that caution, good judgment, and common sense go along way—whether your romancing takes place online or face-to-face.